"You know, we came very close to being in-laws because when my sister was 10, she was totally going to marry Donny."
"There was a long line," says Jimmy Osmond, the youngest of the family which has been part of the American experience for more than 50 years now. And while Donny hasn't performed as part of the Osmond Brothers for decades, focusing on his own projects and sharing the stage with sister Marie, the Osmonds continue to take the stage with some regularity and will be visiting the Foellinger Theatre next week.
For those familiar with the original Osmond Brothers group, Alan, the eldest of the performing brothers, retired about 20 years ago. But it was Wayne's departure that Jimmy now says hit them hardest.
"Losing Wayne was hard because he's the jokester and just has a great personality. But he had brain cancer, and they got it all and he's okay, but the radiation hurt his hearing. When he left the group, Merrill, Jay and I thought it was over. But there were a lot of people who still supported what we do, and as long as there are three voices, you can still get that Osmond sound."
While Donny's popularity with the young fans may be what people remember of the Osmond Brothers, it was actually Merrill who sang lead on most of their songs - which means an Osmond concert now will sound very much like people remember, with or without Donny. Jimmy's own contribution to the shows has been as much behind the scenes as on stage, and he says he intentionally kept his options open as he was growing up in the limelight.
"I never really thought this was ever going to last, so I kept myself open to a lot of different jobs. I've been producing and packaging shows for years now and own the Osmond Family Theatre in Branson. I've been producing and managing the Brothers and my sister because none of the others were really interested in doing that. I've had a lot of jobs over the years and wanted to find ways to keep working in a business that I love, but by far my favorite is still performing with my brothers."
In addition to the Osmond Family Theatre, Jimmy Osmond also owns another popular Branson theater and is carrying on the tradition of Osmond mentor Andy Williams, the performer who put the family on the map by featuring them on his variety series.
"Before he died, Andy Williams talked to me and asked me to keep his legacy going. It was really a daunting task, but I bought his theater, and his family gave me his archives so I'm able to produce about 400 shows a year. The show is called Moon River & Me, and I perform at the theater and on the road. We'll be doing 27 shows in Europe too."
In fact, Osmond's schedule is pretty busy and has been since he was very young. He was even the first Osmond to score a hit record with his release in Japan of "My Little Darling" when he was just five years old. He was also the youngest performer to score a No. 1 hit in the U.K. with his recording of "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" in 1972. He had his own television series, The Great Brain, when he was still a teenager, and his character indisputably stole the Osmonds' Saturday morning cartoon series with the memorable catchphrase "I can't see anything, I've got my eyes closed!"
"I forgot all about that!" he says now. "You know, Paul Frees did the voices on that show, and he had done so many of the voices of that day, including the Pillsbury Doughboy. I was just mesmerized by him when we were working together."
Osmond can also be seen on British reality shows and in musical theater, primarily in Europe. He says now that he thought everyone did what his family did since he has never known another life. Now the father of four, he enjoys seeing them experience something different, a more normal childhood, though he says he wouldn't trade the years he's spent performing. He and his brothers appreciate their enduring popularity and says newer performers will have a hard time lasting as long.
"We have such a great relationship with our audiences because they really care about us, and we really care about them. Now days these kids are so talented, and they get on these reality shows and go from zero to hero overnight, but then they just drop off. It's hard to sustain that. When we were doing that, there were only a few channels and a few radio stations, so it was easier to build that brand. You look at the families that were out there too - the Cassidys, the Jacksons, a few others - and it was really about establishing a brand. It was never about celebrity. It was about our craft. And my brothers and I are so thankful that we get to do what we love for so many years."
He also credits the way they were brought into show business for their lasting success.
"The Brothers were first hired by Walt Disney and then Andy Williams put us on his show, and Andy really introduced us to the old Hollywood way of doing things. I just have an amazing tapestry of memories from all of the experiences we've had over the years."
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